Iranian envoy gets surprise G-7 invite
SMILE PLEASE: French President Macron and US President Donald Trump pose before the G7 Summit in France on Sunday. - Reuters
Biarritz (France) - A senior French official said Zarif went directly into a meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
A top Iranian official paid an unannounced visit on Sunday to the G-7 Summit and headed straight to the buildings where leaders of the world's major democracies have been debating how to handle the country's nuclear ambitions.
France's surprise invitation to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was a high-stakes gamble for French President Emmanuel Macron, who is the host of the Group of Seven gathering in Biarritz.
Zarif's plane left Tehran on Sunday morning and touched down a few hours later at the Biarritz airport, which has been closed since Friday to all flights unrelated to the official G-7 delegations.
A senior French official said Zarif went directly into a meeting with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said talks between the Iranian and French foreign ministers were a side event to the G-7 summit and every opportunity should be seized to resolve tensions between the United States and Iran. "We have to find a way to de-escalate - if not we have to fear that Iran reneges even further on its (nuclear deal) commitments in September," Merkel told reporters.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Zarif flew to Biarritz at the invitation of the French foreign minister. Mousavi said on Twitter that there would be no meetings or negotiations with American officials during Zarif's trip.
Asked whether the White House was aware of Zarif's visit, the French official said: "We operate on our own terms" but noted that Macron and US President Donald Trump met for two hours on Saturday and discussed Iran at length, as well as at the group dinner.
The official described it as a Franco-Iranian meeting for the moment and said that France "is working in full transparency with the US and in full transparency with European partners". The Iranian had met Macron on Friday.
Zarif, who faces US sanctions, had been scheduled to go to Asia as part of a tour to seek support for Iran amid the American campaign against it since Trump withdrew the US from Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal.
Trump was asked whether Zarif had been invited. "No comment," he replied. US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Trump had not "set preconditions" on negotiations with Iran.